Every year the elders at our church give a recommended Bible reading schedule that will get someone through the Scriptures in a year. Some of our congregation follow this schedule. Some follow another schedule. As a pastor I know that my congregation cannot grow without a regular steady diet of God’s Word.
But what about when people read God’s Word, but do not grow? How can someone read the Bible day in and day out, often for years and not become more holy or not see significant spiritual growth? How can someone read the Bible daily, attend sermons weekly and be a spiritual infant? We all know people who have read God’s Word repeatedly and know it well, yet are still spiritually immature or are even drifting further and further from the faith. How does that happen?
There is no one size fits all when it comes to this. There are many reasons why someone reads the Bible and yet does not grow. However, having observed this pattern over the years there are a couple of reasons that consistently show up when this occurs.
Reading the Bible only produces growth and maturity if the Bible is the absolute authority in one’s life. If there is another authority that trumps the Bible then reading it will produce change when it lines up with that other authority. The authority is what rules a person’s heart, not God’s Word. That authority can be tradition, family, friends, data, anti-naturalistic presuppositions, modernistic individual ideas, Netflix, pleasure, etc. This list is almost endless. Most of us think the Bible is our authority. But when we are confronted with an unpleasant truth from the pages of Scriptures we appeal to someone or something else that allows us to continue as we are. I am not encouraging a me and my Bible only mindset. We need other input. But all other input must be subordinated to the Word of God. We do not grow if there is an outside authority that often confirms our biases and allows us to read the Bible, but not really change.
Reading It for Others
If I was to pinpoint one main reason why people read the Bible and yet do not grow it is this one. Too many people read the Bible for other people. They read it with the sins and problems of those around them in mind instead of their own. Reading is mainly about teaching others instead humbling ourselves. We prepare a meal for others, but refuse to eat it. Of course, this is a great failure of pastors and teachers. We study, but not for ourselves. We mine the riches of God’s Word, with an eye to the holiness of our people, but not to personal holiness. But it is also a problem among Christians who are not pastors or teachers. We read the Bible so we can teach our spouse or our children. We read it so we can evangelize. We read it so we can confront members of other denominations or confront members of our own churches. We read it to defend certain doctrines. None of this is inherently wrong. But it must not be first. First we should read for ourselves. What does the Lord want to teach me today? Where have I gone astray from his paths? Where has my zeal gotten weak? Has my love for Christ gone cold? Is there a specific sin the Lord is bringing to my attention that I need to repent of? Is there some part of His character he wants me to examine more closely? David uses the word “I” dozens of times in the Psalms. Why? David knew his walk with God was the priority. As we take those truths and apply them we will be fit to teach others with not just our words, but our lives.
Lack of Ongoing Practical Obedience
The Bible is not a magic pill we take to become more holy. To grow in Christ and holiness we must keep pressing. Too often we are like a 40 year old who was a star athlete in high school, but is now overweight and can barely run a 40 yard dash. He talks often his feats in high school not realizing that he has not grown since then. We too look back to previous greatness but are stuck in neutral, coasting through our Christian life. We keep up appearances, but there is no growth happening. One reason we can read and not grow is that we are not pressing forward. We read the Bible last year. We will read it again this year and gain next year. We look back with fondness on growth that occurred 5 years ago or 10 years ago. But we are no longer maturing. We don’t weep over our sins much. We check the boxes, but do not examine our lives. We don’t address our specific sins. We don’t cultivate those virtues we are weak in. Sin has taken root and we are too lazy to get in the dirt and pull it out. Holiness is too hard so we read the Bible and talk about the Bible, but don’t obey it. What is interesting about this problem is that when we work hard to grow the Bible comes alive to us. Passages that were dead leap to life. We stop reciting the same verses over and over and find new ones. Books of the Bible that we thought were irrelevant but read because we had to now become more interesting. Our eyes are opened to sins we did not see before. We come to love God more and people more. But this does not happen by remembering past battles we have won. It happens because we are still fighting, still on the front lines. It happens because we take God’s Word and push it into the corners of our lives. All the Bible reading in the world will not compensate for laziness in our walk with Christ.
I would encourage reading the Bible over and over again. It is our life. It tells us about our great God, the Son He sent, and the Spirit who now indwells us. It tells us about our sin and the remedy for it. It tells us about the world God made and how to relate to the people in it. Read and read again. But reading is not enough. If we don’t believe it is our absolute authority, don’t read it personally, and don’t constantly seek new ways to apply it to our lives we will find that we know the facts of the Bible well, well enough to convince others we are mature. But the reality is we are still spiritual infants.